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September 24, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Rating: 8.7/10 (141 votes cast)

Ruby was in her usual spot. Sitting cross-legged, right under the stern “No Busking” sign that was screwed into the old brickwork.

“Busking” being the British term for street-performance; juggling, fire-breathing, magic tricks, whatever.

Ruby was a musician though. A pretty good one, so she’d been told. Just the simple, classic, acoustic guitar-sweet-folksy-singing combo. She wasn’t out to change the world, she wasn’t out to become famous or make tonnes of money. She just enjoyed it, and she thought that was as good a reason as any.

It was a pretty simple gig, just sit down, preferably in a place with a lot of passing foot-traffic and good acoustics, then play through a few songs over and over for an hour or two. This tunnel near the river was perfect and by now it felt like home to her, way more than any actual home she’d had.

She was convinced that a fair few passers-by believed this was actually her home and that she was homeless. Not that this stereotype bothered her, but she could usually tell what people were thinking as they passed.

Some would hurry to find a few coins in their purse, wallet or pockets, in a charitable and rather patronising way. To Ruby this displayed ignorance more than anything, but of course she accepted the coins all the same, she felt kind of sorry for them.

Some people, however, would practically scorn and tut as they walked passed, as if to say get a proper job. This displayed a totally different kind of ignorance, but one for which she was not sympathetic.

Sometimes people would deliberately avoid eye-contact, or busy themselves on their phones, as if Ruby would be angry or heartbroken by their choice not to throw a few coins in the hat. She always found this one the weirdest. She was doing a job as far as she was concerned. She wasn’t begging, but at the same time she hadn’t been asked to perform so why would she be offended if you didn’t pay her?

People were passing, left and right as usual. It was a Thursday evening in Springtime; not quite warm enough for the crazy summer crowds but enough to make the session financially worthwhile.

Out of the corner of her eye she became aware of a shape, a figure, not moving with the crowd one way or the other.

She looked up and saw a middle-aged woman and a young girl watching her.

This happened now and again. It was usually quite nice to have someone actually pay attention to more than a few lines of her songs, it felt more like a genuine performance. Often it happened with children and parents, which was always very cute. Usually the little audience would shuffle off at the end of the song and the kid would put in a generous tip.

Not this time.

Ruby finished the song and they stayed standing, watching. This was a less frequent occurrence but it did still happen from time to time. People decided they wanted their moneys worth, whatever that was, or they genuinely were enthralled with the music. Sometimes it could be annoying actually, as it made her feel a bit too self-conscious and then liable to make mistakes. There had also been times when Ruby had been made uncomfortable by people standing and watching, because she’d suspected them to be muggers or worse. In this instance she usually just feigned a little break from the performance and the characters in question would applaud, maybe pay up and finally move along.

It felt kind of different this time though. The mother and daughter were stood there, waiting and watching but not applauding or really reacting at all. Weirdest of all they were still smiling.

Ruby shook it off and started the next song. Feeling as though she had to put more into the performance. She really went for it on the vocals, closing her eyes and delivering more than the usual amount of emotion needed.

When she opened her eyes there were more people stood watching. Three more separate people had stopped in the foot-tunnel to watch her. It startled her slightly but again this was a phenomenon she’d experienced before. Sometimes when one person stops to watch, it encourages others and the situation kind of snowballs.

There were still people walking past and not stopping but it felt like there were less passers-by now. Ruby continued to play.

Another song and again no applause or tip from the bystanders. She definitely hadn’t played to an audience like this before. By now there were about seven or eight people stood around watching and it was starting to freak her out. By the time the assembled crowd had reached the region of about fifteen people she decided enough was enough and she should finish for the night.

She ended the song, a little hastier than usual, mumbled a “thank you, goodnight” and began to pack up.

Leaning down to pick up the soft guitar bag she suddenly heard footsteps rapidly shuffle towards her. She immediately looked up to see the middle-aged woman and daughter looming over her, too close for comfort.

“Please…” Said the lady, through an almost pained smile “keep playing for us. My daughter loves this music. Please won’t you play some more?”

Ruby didn’t know what to say. She felt sorry for the woman somehow. There was a look of desperation on her face.

“I…I’m sorry I have to be going really…” Ruby fumbled.

The young girl looked disappointed, like someone let down yet again by a loved one who had done it many times before. A man appeared beside Ruby with the same sad-but-smiling expression.

“Please, we love the music. We always listen.”

This last sentence confused and scared Ruby. She performed in this tunnel practically every week but she’d never seen these people before. Did they pass by every day and just coincidentally decide to stop and listen to a full set of songs on the same night? Had they prearranged to get together as her audience? She didn’t like the thought of either of these possibilities. She felt almost like her privacy had been invaded. Busking gave her anonymity despite being out in public. This was all very weird.

“I suppose I could do one more perhaps…?” She offered, supposing she could get the hell out of there after one last number. The expressions on the audience’s faces seemed to relax at this and the members of the gathered crowd who had come forward stayed where they were, expectantly.

Ruby nervously started another song, a particularly shrill and melodic one, a song which she only occasionally played as it was pretty old and the average tourist didn’t really know it. The crowd seemed to move inwards, making her feel crowded and yet more uncomfortable. She couldn’t really see the rest of the tunnel anymore but it seemed as though there were no more people walking through it.

She played through the song, attempting to avoid eye-contact with anyone, instead she looked down at their feet and clothes and for the first time she noticed their clothes looked very old. Not shabby and worn-out but old-fashioned. Out of date. Not that she was a fashion historian but she guessed them at around fifty or sixty years old? Like something her grandmother would have been wearing in old black and white photos of her childhood.

She gazed up and saw the people were blissfully staring into each other’s eyes, or swaying slightly to the song, some with their eyes closed, some hugging each other. A melancholy satisfaction washed over Ruby. She drew the song to a close tenderly and the middle-aged woman smiled. The young girl let out a small sigh and said; “Thank you dear. That was beautiful.”

A well-dressed couple walked along the riverside. They’d been out somewhere and, feeling a little tipsy, had fancied a stroll before finding a taxi home. They heard music as they approached the foot-tunnel.
“Can you hear that?” said the woman, smiling.

“Yeah, there’s a few buskers along here usually.” The man replied. After a pause he said “You know about thirty people died in this tunnel during the war. They were sheltering here during an air-raid.”

They entered the tunnel and saw a young lady sitting on her own, playing a tune on a guitar, eyes closed and blissfully unaware of the emptiness around her.

“My grandfather’s whole family got killed here” the man continued, sneering down at the busker as they walked past “when I think about how hard those people had it back then, it makes me sick to see people like her…”

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I Drove Out to the Desert

September 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I was driving out to the desert. The panorama of distant rock, endless sand, and occasional cactus slowly blurring in my peripheral vision. Sparse cloud cover traversed the sky overhead, providing brief interludes of shade over deceptively large patches of the arid wasteland. I found my exit, an unremarkable dirt path most motorists would overlook. It led seemingly to nowhere, out into the emptiness devoid of civilization. To those in the know, however, it was a familiar avenue. The indicators were clear to me as I passed them. First the wooden signs with crude pictures of mountains carved on them, then an outcropping of small boulders with a giant arrow pointing East painted onto it. I turned my four-wheel drive on and took a sharp left past my silent navigators. As I penetrated deeper into the wilderness, my radio began to cut out, its signal fading to static.

In my trunk were the necessities: water, rope, carabiner hooks, chalk, and harness. I had everything I needed to make it up the sheer rock face. After about ten miles, I arrived the base of the towering mesa. It loomed over me and the surrounding terrain. At almost three thousand feet high, it dominated most of the adjacent landscape, its beckoning cliffs and peaks threatening to swallow everything that approached. Even the clouds struggled to graze the roof of my imposing adversary.

All that remained was to locate the starting point of the climbing route. Hundreds, maybe thousands of climbers before me had attempted to conquer Black Mountain. Some were victorious, most gave it an admirable effort. It wasn’t the most difficult climb in the world, but the heat made for a formidable obstacle. Lucky for me, clouds were gathering above, shedding precious shade as I inched closer to the base of the mesa. I spotted the stone circle and stopped my car, stepping out into the elements from my air conditioned haven. A slight breeze carried the dry, stale air over me as I walked to the trunk and equipped my physical burdens. With a loud clank I closed the hatch and ensured my car was locked properly. It was unlikely I would be robbed out here, but safety is key in the desert. As my feet shuffled to the small stone circle, the clinking of my gear echoed slightly against the rock face, reflecting the emptiness of my situation.

I’m glad no one’s here, I thought to myself. I peered down at the circle of rocks, taking in their fake petroglyphs left my previous climbers. Written in chalk, paint, or who knows what, some left them as a simple guide post to the start of the climb, others as a “I was here” type of graffiti. This sort of childish obsession never interested me, but it was interesting to see what images were left. There were even some new ones I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe this route was getting more popular than I expected.

Moving on from the new-age vandalism, I proceeded to the cliff face. In front of me was a large crag, ideal for shimmying up with just my hands. It was a kind start to the climb, and I had a long way to go. For the first leg I hadn’t needed any clips to secure my fall, my hands finding the holds from muscle memory. Eventually, however, after a brief rest on a small cliff, the real climb began. Most beginners stopped here, calling it quits and discarding unnecessary gear. It was frowned upon by most of the community, but there wasn’t much you could do to stop it. I felt a strange pang of anger and resentment against whomever littered this place. This example of nature’s terrible cataclysm was something to be shared and respected, not used as a dumping ground. Up here, far above the cities and streets, the people and traffic, the work and responsibilities, I gazed out to the horizon. Up here, away from all the business of my mother’s estate, I sought peace. Up here, I wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout from breaking up with Joel. No friends to harangue or “comfort” me. Just the wild air sweeping across the desert, and some asshole had to ruin it with their garbage.

Fuck it, I said in my head. “FUCK YOU!!!” I screamed to the vast expanse before me. Clouds covered the mesa again, as if cooling me and my temper, the wind cooing against my face. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe.

I was suddenly startled by a sharp noise behind me. I quickly turned around to see small rocks falling from above the next leg of the climb. I quickly scanned the area for signs of life, or worse, disintegration. I’ve known climbers to be attacked by mountain goats, coyotes, stray bee hives, even mountain lions, but the number one killer is unstable rock formations. Time wears away at everything, even the monolith I was perched upon. One loose hold and you plummet to your death with little to no warning. Determined to conquer the route, I pressed on. I’m not going to die like that, I promised in my head.

I saw no trace of animal life nearby, so I pressed on. The climb was slow compared to my start. Fewer obvious places for me to make a safe grip meant for more and more clips to be driven into the rock face. Thankfully, there were well-established directions evidenced from previous climbers. After an hour of strenuous ascending, I could tell I was reaching the next flat portion and rest stop. My hands, calloused and chalky, dug into the harsh rock, and with my weakening strength I lifted myself ever upward. Finally, as the sun began to creepy back out from the clouds, I found the cliff edge. Then, I found bones.

Bleached from the sun but in sickly arrangement, a grotesque mixture of human and animal skeletons were splayed out in front of me. Bile began to rise in my throat. Determined to refrain from further dehydrating myself, I held the vomit down. I’m no forensic technician, but I could identify human, lion, and coyote skulls. Sinew still hung from some of the bones, nearby tracks indicated it was all dragged from some other location on the mesa. Whatever did this had killed recently, and had gathered it all together in a macabre spectacle, a trophy to its ability, a warning to the world.

I looked up the trail to the next ascent, the last leg of the climb until my journey was over. I looked to the left to an old goat trail that curves along the face of the mesa, where the dirt tracks had come from. For anyone finishing the climb, it was a simple descent back the way you came to get back down. It was impossible to climb three thousand feet and make it back down in time to return home the same day. This may be my last time, but I can make sure others don’t perish here in the future, I decided. I downed more water, held a moment of silence for the slaughtered, and began travelling along the goat path.

Mountain goats can walk incredible edges. We humans have to make do with shuffling carefully and placing fail-safes so we don’t fall to our deaths. I did what any experienced tracker would do, I followed the signs of life. To my dismay, they were mostly omens of death; more bones discarded here or there, droppings, tufts of fur and horn, teeth from human and beast alike. I made my way horizontally across the mesa for a grueling amount of time, until suddenly my hand met with too little friction. The fingers slipped abruptly from the hold, hanging uselessly on my side and bringing my body swinging. All at once an entire half of my body was dangling in the hot air, my view forced to gaze at the treacherous depths below. Dust, dirt, and rocks fell before me in a slow tumble, bouncing and shattering off the cliffs. I had trained for this and reminded myself, This is not how I die. Gaining my second wind, I swung back to face the wall and found a stronger hold. I glanced at my hand, finding a black substance coating my fingers. Resolved to make it to a rest stop and study the peculiar pigment, I continued on. Within fifteen minutes, I had found what I was searching for. A short drop into a flat patch of rock would be my salvation. I steadied myself again, slowly and carefully moving into position to properly descend. First I set my legs, pointing my heels back to the wide world. I set my right hand in a good crag. Finally, I curled by left hand onto a hold. I counted down in my head and swung slightly out with each number, Three….two…one-. My hand slips again.

The fall is quick and the injury quicker. My right ankle meets the ground at an unsafe angle, twisting and fracturing, breaking the bones and cutting deep into my body. I gasp for the air that had been forced of my lungs form the impact. Grabbing for my wounded foot, I feel a substance on my hand. At my fury I see more black substance. Furious, I scream in frustration and pain. The scream echoes in to the nearby cave.

A cave? The goats, it’s here! My mind races as I peer over at the foreboding cave leading into the bowels of the mesa. I quickly take out what little I brought with me. I wash off the blood, bandage up what I can with the basic climbers tape I had, and begin limping towards the cavern. My flashlight provide a scant amount of light, but it illuminates at least one mystery.

Coal. The black substance is coal. Native Americans used the coal centuries ago. Mining operations almost began here but they were shut down as being environmentally unstable. I limped further in the body of the mesa, my grunts and footsteps echoing in to the otherwise silent tunnel. As I progressed, I began to make out drawings. In a larger chamber where the outside light had completely faded, I was alone with the glyphs of someone unknown entity. Harsh black outlines in coal were everywhere. On every surface save the ground were depictions of animals, humans, monsters of disgusting scenes of violence and murder. I began to tremble, What have I found? What could do this and not get caught? I began to feel faint, and sat down. I expected to meet with more horrible skeletal remains, but felt only the cool rock on my skin. Whatever lived here was long gone. There was no fire pit, no remains, no droppings, nothing. My vision began to blur, I was bleeding from my wound profusely. The tape was meant to bandage hands, not fix broken bones. I reminded myself why I had come up here. I recalled why I packed so little. I never wanted to come back down.

Was it the mesa scolding me? Chiding me for planning to end my life on its sacred person? I doubt it cared. Nothing in life seemed to care anymore. After drinking the last of my water, I threw the canteen to the darkness ahead. It clanged and made a cacophonous sound reverberate off the hard walls of my makeshift tomb. Resigning myself to fate, I thought on my departed mother, my friends, family, co-workers, even Joel. “Fuck me, I guess.” I stated to the cave. I slumped further down the wall, feeling the pain numb from lack of blood. I closed my eyes and waited for the end.

Seconds later, I jolted awake from the sound of the clanging of my canteen. Accompanying it was the howl, or growl of some unseen force. I was too weak to grab my flashlight, too weak to cry out. I whimpered every so softly, straining to see in the pitch black darkness. I heard it draw closer, cold air sweeping over my body. Oh how I wish I was out in the sun again. Otherworldly footsteps echoed in the chamber, gathering speed as it gained distance on my hapless body. As I felt it stand above me, it roared in what sounded like three voices at once.

It grabbed my injured ankle, once numbed pain resurfacing and tearing through my body. I sobbed with what little strength I had left as it started dragging me towards the outside. As the last vestiges of adrenaline faded from my system, I began to drift off once more, each ping of pain less than the last. My dying thoughts filled with regret and remorse as my assailant ferried me to the horrible death pit where it left the other pitiful skeletons. I knew I would die before I saw light again. As I left from this world I could only muster, I didn’t want to die this way.

Credit: Abysmii

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Red Water

September 23, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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I was on a business trip about a year ago and I had to drive from Denver to LA. It was a long drive and I was growing tired of the road, so I stopped at the Holiday Inn hotel that was nearby. I walked up to the desk and rung the bell. Just seconds later, a man came out from the back room. “Hello sir, my name is John Shelby,” the man said, “How can I assist you?”

“I’m looking for a room,” I replied, “Are there any available?”

He searched in his computer to see if a room was available. To my luck, there was one more room left. He gave me a key and told me to have a nice night. I asked him to point me toward a vending machine and he did just that. When I walked to the vending machine, craving a bag of chips, I noticed a pool at the end of the hall. A lot of hotels have pools, there’s nothing strange about that. What got me confused was the fact that the water was red, blood red. I purchased my bag of chips and went back to the front desk where the man was still present.

“What’s up with that pool back there?” I asked him.

“What do you mean, sir?” He asked, a confused look grown upon his face.

“The water is red,” I said, “Why is it red?”

He took off his glasses and took a deep breath. “Well it’s kind of a freaky story,” he said, “Years ago, a woman was found brutally murdered in that pool and the water was contaminated with her blood.”

“Are you telling me that her blood is still in there?”

“No, no, of course not,” he said, “The water was removed and the pool was closed down. But many people say they see the pool filled with red water.” He put his glasses back on. “Personally, I had never seen it, but I think this hotel likes to play tricks with your mind.”

“So this place is haunted then?” He shook his head yes. I was shocked, not really scared, but just surprised because I had never had an experience like that before.

I went up to my room, took a well needed hot shower and I lay in bed. I couldn’t sleep for some reason, my mind was so curious and it had so many questions that needed answered. I got out of bed, put on a shirt and I walked out into the hallway. I walked down the hall and headed toward the pool. It was quiet out in the halls, I guess nobody else had trouble sleeping. I was laughing at myself when I realized I was in my underwear, so it was a good thing that nobody was out in the halls at that time. I did believe that I saw a woman cross from one room to the other. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I just figured it was another guest.

When I reached the floor of the pool, I was able to see the blood red water even from way down the hall. I passed the front desk, nobody was there. I then passed the vending machine and I stopped directly in front of the door that would lead to the pool. I tried the door, but it was locked. I don’t think I would’ve gone in even if it wasn’t. I looked through the large window that showed the blood contaminated pool. It looked as if the pool had been closed for a long time. I looked behind me, down the hall to the elevator. I was imagining a scene from “The Shining” when the stream of blood came shooting out of the elevator. I had a feeling that I would see something similar to that, but I didn’t. Instead, I saw a woman, standing at the edge of the pool and looking as if she was about ready to jump in. She was completely nude, not a single piece of clothing on her body. When she snapped her head my way, I jumped back in fear and I walked back to my room as fast as I could, taking the stairs next to the vending machine instead of the elevator.

Hours later, I woke up to my alarm going off. I took a shower, threw on some clothes and I walked down to the first floor for breakfast. After breakfast, I was ready to check out and get back on the road. I decided to take one last look at the pool before I leave. I walked slowly pass the front desk, pass the vending machine and to the pool. I was still freaked out by what happened the night before as I looked through the window. I was surprised to see that the pool was empty. There was no red water and there was no woman.

I walked back to the front desk where a woman was working. “Is John Shelby available?” I asked.

She gave me a confused look. “Excuse me?” She said.

“John Shelby,” I repeated. “He was working here last night.”

“John Shelby died back in 1982,” she said. “He killed himself after murdering a woman, right there in that pool.” She laughed. “Is this a joke, sir?”

“Yeah,” I said, forcing out a laugh. “It was just a joke.” I returned my key and I left the building. I got back on the road, never forgetting about what had happened that night in that hotel.

Credit: MurderHouze

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September 21, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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I never used to frequent bars, at least not as much as I do now. With no job, no family, no nothing to return to, save for a bottle and an ashtray, I couldn’t find anywhere else to waste time.

I don’t do much else besides mold myself around a barstool while squeezing a glass of something that burns less coming up than it did going down. There isn’t much left for me to do.

Thursday night two months ago, I sat on the second stool on the right end of the counter, watching little brown bubbles pop in the centre of my drink. Somewhere to my left, the air conditioner reminded everyone in the room that it needed to be repaired while a stout fan pushed hot air up and under my shirt. The bartender dragged his soot stained dish cloth across the counter, smearing cigarette ash again the wood. There were about fifteen people in the bar that night. Not enough people to cause trouble, but just enough to keep the quiet buried beneath the floor tiles.
The liquid in my glass vibrated as the door behind me opened. A bell chimed, and I heard the patter of old boots on older tile as someone new came in.

I didn’t recognize him. He took up the stool beside mine, on my left, but I didn’t feel him. The spot felt just as empty as it did before he came in. Hunched over the countertop like a wet sheet of paper, the man didn’t so much as blink at anybody besides the bartender.
He had scruff on his jaw, no shine in his eye, and his hair looked like the wool on a dead lamb. He didn’t look like he wanted company, so I knocked back the rest of my drink and asked for another, ignoring him altogether.

I didn’t have any intention of talking to that guy, but apparently he wanted to talk to me. I might’ve thought he just wanted to mull over his own issues by himself, but he made it clear that he had baggage he wanted off his chest by just looking over at me.

“You live here long?” His voice was even like pavement.
A dry thud as he put his empty glass down on the counter.

I didn’t answer until the bartender refilled both of our drinks. “A couple years. You?”
Someone was smoking a cig somewhere in the room. The smoke made lights look runny.

He shook his head, downing half his drink before speaking. “You ever see anything so jack-shit fucked up that you just got no choice but to go along with it?”

I heard a laugh and a cough pass between my teeth. I nodded, taking the rim of my glass to my lips.

“How did you handle it?” He asked. His leather jacket was glowing orange in the light.

I dipped my head down a bit, taking a swig out of my glass. “Not very well. Couldn’t work, couldn’t eat, forgot about sleep. Some shit just makes the world stop turning.” My voice faded as I thought back a couple years.

He was staring straight into the counter at this point. His glass was just a glass, his eyes weak and unable to refocus. I slowly drained my own glass, waiting for him to say something.

“Mind if I tell you a bit of what happened?” He glanced at me, a look so brief I might’ve imagined it.

“Shoot.” I ran the tip of my thumb over the lip of the glass, wondering if I was sober enough to listen.

He let out a deep breath, resting his weight against his forearms on the counter. His breath made the smoky air swirl around our faces. The air conditioner clunked like a passing train while he composed himself.

“I’m pretty new here. I haven’t been in town for more than about six months. I was out of a job where I was last, so I decided to relocate after finding a listing over here.

“I moved into this small bungalow down by the university. It was in a good area with good people who mowed their lawns and didn’t leave beer bottles on my driveway, so I took the place and settled in.

“The bungalow in was pretty simple. It had one level, one bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen and all that. There were a lot of windows by the back in the kitchen, and there was this really big, nice picture window in the living room at the front that showed a bit of the lawn and the whole side walk down the street.”

I saw him pause to toss back the rest of his drink. He resumed his speech while the bartender came over a poured him another.

“Things were great during the first few weeks. The job was steady, no issues with the electricity or water…” He stopped again, and when I looked over at him, his hands were clenched tight around the glass like it was the only thing reminding him where he was.
“Fast forward a few weeks and I started to notice one of my… neighbors. From the moment I first saw him, I probably should’ve considered moving out, but I didn’t have enough money on me to get another place so soon after getting the one I had.
“This guy was average looking, wearing jeans and a plain shirt, standing on the sidewalk down from my house. I saw him through that big window by the front of my house, wondering why in God’s name I could see through him.”
I coughed as a dribbled of my drink slid down the wrong pipe. “You what?”
“The guy was half-transparent or some shit, and I don’t know why the hell that didn’t freak me out enough to leave.” He bent his head over his now empty glass as the bartended came around to refill it.
By this point, I noticed that a fair number of people had gathered around us. Their eyes were watery with interest, but none of them spoke up to urge the man beside me to continue speaking.
“So after I saw that guy for the first time, I remember staring at him for a bit, thinking that, okay, maybe he’s just curious. Maybe he was shy. Maybe he was actually a concerned neighbor, and so I went outside to see him.
“Imagine my surprise when I get outside and find the sidewalk empty. There were leaves and grass clippings, but no guy.
“I thought I was crazy. I thought I was seeing things, so I went back inside and got dressed for work. I thought if I just went on like it didn’t happen, it wouldn’t happen again.”
His glass was empty again.
“But it did happen again. It happened every day that week, and the next week, and the week after that. I went outside to find him for the first week and a bit, but after that, I realized that I wouldn’t ever find him out there. It didn’t make sense, so I just went to work… But it got real bad real quick after the first few days.”
He stopped talking just to look me in the eye, completely ignoring the small circle of people that had formed around us.
“Every day that fucker got closer and closer to the window. At first he stayed on the side walk, but then he moved onto my lawn, coming just a little bit closer every day. His clothes never changed, and that was why I was certain that he wasn’t real. There was no way he could be real.
“I had blinds installed, but I couldn’t close them because I had to know how much time I had before he made it to the window. I thought if he got to the window and I didn’t see it… I don’t know what I thought. I just needed to know where he was at all times.
“By then I convinced myself that I was crazy, that I had somehow bought the only haunted house in the whole area, ghost and all. I don’t know. I knew I’d made a mistake, but I had absolutely nowhere to go, and I still hadn’t saved up enough to rent out an apartment I’d found just ten minutes away from my workplace.”
He stopped to swirl his drink around his glass, his eyebrows raising as he took in the growing crowd of drunks. People were murmuring to each other, but he looked like he didn’t hear it. He probably did, but I felt like he needed to pretend he was just talking to me.
“When he was just about six feel from that window, I started smelling his really nasty, rotten smell, like someone left out spoiled meat and eggs.” His voice had gotten softer. “The next day, he was five feet away, and I couldn’t see his feet or much of his calves anymore. The smell was worse, and even my coworkers were starting to notice it when I got to work.”
His eyes were staring straight ahead at the racks of beer and scotch along the wall opposite of where we sat. When he spoke again, his voice was so quiet that I had to hold my breath to hear him.
“Then he was four feet away, and I couldn’t see his legs at all. I remember sweating because I just didn’t get it, and I brought my hand to my forehead to wipe away the sweat. I leaned back when I did because I was shifting my weight onto my other foot, and as I did, my reflection appeared in the glass of the window.
“And then it all made sense.”
He didn’t need to continue. I don’t think anyone would have made him if he didn’t want to, but he needed to say it. I could see it in his deflated cheeks that he needed to say it.
“That entire time, I hadn’t been seeing a ghost coming closer to my house. I’d been seeing the reflection of a man coming closer to me inside of my own goddamn home.
“When I realized what was actually going on, I turned around as quickly as I could and I jumped that fucker. I knocked him to the floor and beat him down until I was sure he’d stay still long enough for me to call the cops.”
Everyone in the bar was sitting close enough to hear. Nobody blinked, nobody moved so much as to cause even the thought of a noise.
He finished off the last of his drink, and shooed away the bartender who tried to fill it once again.
“The cops cuffed him and took him away, and I never saw him again. No one knew who he was. The cops said he was homeless and had been rooming in one of my closets or some shit. I guess it doesn’t matter too much.”
He spun around in his stool to face his audience, all the while making sure to look over at me every now and again. “It’s been about a month since I moved out of that place and into that other apartment I was talking about. It’s nicer there, fewer windows, no homeless creeps. I probably should’ve done a better job of scoping the bungalow out initially, or just gotten the hell out of there the day I noticed that guy…” He paused to make eye contact with every single person in attendance. “I’m not really sure there’s anything more I need to say other than to do yourself a favour and make sure you don’t fuck up as bad as I did.”
He turned to look at me. “The end.”
Applause followed his words, chasing them into my memory so I’d never forget his words.
It’s been two months since that night, and I decided to take my new car out for a drive. My new job paid for it, and my new girlfriend made sure that I treated it as well as I treated her.
Before I knew where I was headed, I ended up by the university, cruising through the family-friendly streets lined with sprinklers and flowerbeds.
On my right was a line of homes, bungalows, most of them occupied, except for a few. As I drove past them, I noticed this one particular home with a great picture window right at the front of the house. Sunlight created a streak of brightness against the glass, but even through the glare I could make out the shape of a man’s head, shoulders, and chest, and a pair of hands pressed to the window.
I blinked and the image disappeared.
I left the neighborhood and drove straight home, calling my girlfriend on the way to let her know that I was going to need a drink when I got home.
Like I told that man months ago, some shit just makes the world stop turning.

Credit To – Sabrina S.

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The Church

September 17, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Mitch, Bill and I knew this church well. We all grew up going to it. Now of course we had all ‘fallen away’ so to speak. It is not a hard church to get into. The second floor windows were never locked and there was no one in the neighborhood ignorant of how to get on the roof. We however were the only ones who knew about the windows. The only ones who would sneak in and hang out. This time however we decided to bring a 30 pack of beer and get drunk in it.
Bill carried the beer downstairs and set it down on one of the 3 large steps at the front of the stage. The auditorium did not fall into the standard of what people would imagine, where seats were permanently mounted to an inclined base. The floor was flat and carpeted, folded chairs stacked neatly against the wall. If you were facing the stage you could feel light filtering in at your right. That entire wall was windows save for a double door which marked the mouth of a hallway in the corner of the room. They opened to show a serving counter from the kitchen while the main door was down the hall. As Bill tossed me a brew I decided to see what the church fridge had to offer.
Down the hall I walked to the main kitchen door, releasing the musical crack and hiss of the beer in my hand. The kitchen was noticeably darker than the rest of the church. It was still plenty bright enough for me to see, although that may also be attributable to the fact that I already knew the kitchen. Someone who had not been there before might not have been able to get around so easily. I found the fridge quickly and it only took half a second to recognize that it was empty. The freezer however had a carton of ice cream ready for raiding. With a beer in one hand I grabbed 3 spoons and laced them in my fingers as my free hand grasped the loot.
“Look what I found!” Energy filled my voice. The pre-buzz excitement was exacerbated by the fact that we were drinking in a church that we had broken into.
“Ooooooh!” Bill and Mitch returned in college frat fashion. Their energy obviously matching mine.
The night continued with poor piano playing, jokes in poor taste and contests to see who could do the best tricks with a wheel chair. This joy turned to intense caution when we heard a noise from the hallway near the kitchen. All of us looked first to the wall of windows to make sure nobody was looking inside.
“I think someone is unlocking the door.” I whispered. Further down the hall way, passed kitchen door, was a door to the parking lot.
The three of us moved quickly to the hallway and looked down to see if a shadow was pushing into the hallway at the other end. No silhouette, just the clean cut of light laying on the floor by the exit. Bill began to walk forward wanting to get a closer look and make sure.
“I am going to go check the other door.” I declared.
There was a hallway on the other side of the stage that mirrored the hallway with the kitchen. I ran down and stared out through the glass of the other exit door. The parking lot remained well lit and empty. It felt like an eternity but in truth I only observed for about a minute. Turning to rejoin my friends by the kitchen, the church suddenly carried an eerie look about it. It was no longer familiar. Every shadow seemed darker than before, full of danger and though I did not see anyone outside, the distinct feeling that somebody was there now overloaded my mind.
I ran quickly but quietly, arriving at the mouth of the hall by the double doors slightly out of breath.
“Nobody there,” I reported quietly. That was what my eyes had told me but the odd feeling I had on the way back had generated doubt in my sense of vision.
Bill was still watching out the exit door at the end of the hall while Mitch stood just passed the door to the kitchen. The noise came again. This time it came from the Kitchen and again it sounded like somebody had come through a door. Of course that made no sense. There are three doors to the kitchen. The double doors leading out to the auditorium, which had a counter you had to climb over, the hallway door and a door leading outside. I was standing near the double doors at the mouth of the hall, Mitch by the main door halfway down the hall. The third door could be seen by Bill as he watched out the exit door at the end of the hall.
Now it was not a fear of people or being caught. It was a curiosity of what was getting us so rattled. Mitch turned and leaned into the kitchen. As Bill stood and walked over to him I opened up the double doors in the auditorium. I leaned over the serving counter scanning the kitchen. All was quiet, not a thing out of place. Clean, quiet and terrifying. Our curiosity was the driver now though. We had to see what it was that generated this fear.
Mitch walked into the kitchen and stood at its center. Bill followed him in but only a few steps. He stood still holding the door, obviously ready to turn and flee. The three of us scanned the kitchen over and over again. We looked for odd shapes, out of place shadows but failed to find anything unusual. With each search we gain back some level of comfort but never enough to let us relax our shoulders or blink.
Mitch turned with a smile and began to let out an uncomfortable chuckle. He was suddenly interrupted by the sound of smashing pots, pans and other metal kitchen objects. We all jerked our heads over to the sink at my right. It was clean and undisturbed. The smashing continued and I turned my head over to the opposite side of the kitchen. In my quick and frantic scan I did not see anything out of place. The counters were untouched and cupboards closed The source of our vociferous kitchen band remained hidden. By the time my head was fully turned I had seen Bill’s last step through the door and Mitch on his way out with matched fear.
I pushed myself back off the counter and fell over my own feet, frantically twisting to begin my run. My strides projected a demonstration of terror. Across the auditorium and down the other hall because there was no way in hell I would pick the closer door. I had to run alongside the kitchen to get to it and after I got out I would still have to run past the outside kitchen door. Bill and Mitch had the same thoughts choosing their escape route too.
It seemed like I wasn’t making space. Wherever this loud crashing came from it got more intense as I ran. Where others would scream poetic profanity I breathed heavy and pumped my arms with the powerful cadence of my feet. Louder and louder the evil symphony got. Bill hit the exit door hard without slowing down. Now the smashing was happening right next to my ears. I could have sworn people were hitting pots, pans and spoons together just on my shoulder. Then Mitch made it through the door with equal enthusiasm Bill’s exit. I saw the door swing wide and hard hitting the outside wall but I could not hear it. The noise of the kitchen was pulling ahead. Something I could not see was closing around me. My ears were so abused that my eyes began to hurt.
I have to get out. I cannot slow. If that door swung back around I would break it off the hinges. This crashing turbulence was tangible, surrounding me and tearing my ears a part. Until my shoulder drove through the door. The pots and pans stopped abruptly, replaced with a wicked and malicious laugh. I continued my pace, focused on staying with my friends. The laugh faded and the presence that had almost surrounded me was not in pursuit.
Once outside we of course did not stop. Who would? The three of us were both in good shape but this run would impress an olympian. Once we got away from the church the road was dark. All of us continued until the next well lit street.
Bill stopped directly under a street lamp, hands pushed down onto his knees as Mitch and I joined him. Our collective attention stared up the dark street we had come from, watching yes, but most of all listening. Heavy breathing was all that filled the darkness.
“What the fuck was that?” Mitch said. Keeping is voice low.
Bill and I did not answer.

Credit To – Mancub2489

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Carnival Burgers

September 16, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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As many college students do, I practically lived off fast food and pizza delivery during my years as an undergraduate. I went to a school in my home town, so lucky enough for me I didn’t have to live on campus and suffer through the cafeteria on a daily basis, but nonetheless, my eating habits usually involved a lot of things fried in grease and covered in cheese. Of course, back in my early 20’s, I had the metabolism to handle it. Now in my late 30’s, I have sworn off fast food forever. Yet, before you praise me for my healthy lifestyle, please understand, I don’t do it for my health.

I lived in a small apartment back in those days- a typical student dwelling adorned with garage sale furniture and movie posters. It was a humble place, but it was inexpensive so I didn’t have to get a roommate and in a great part of town surrounded by shopping and restaurants. Since my apartment was on the bottom floor, it wasn’t uncommon for me to come home from time to time with advertisements taped to my door or hung on my doorknob from local businesses. I would often find coupons and take-out menus and by now I had amassed quite a collection. I was familiar with just about every restaurant in my neighborhood. I knew which ones delivered and which ones didn’t. I knew which ones stayed open late and which ones were fast or slow or overpriced. I guess you could say I ordered out far too often.

One night, as I was studying for an exam in the late hours of the night, my stomach began that all-too-familiar rumbling that had so many times before disrupted my ability to concentrate. As usual, I had been so wrapped up in preparing for the finals that I had forgotten to eat dinner, and as usual, I would resort to some late night delivery. It was approaching midnight, so I knew a lot of my regular places would be closed by now, especially being a weeknight. I shuffled through the collection of take-out menus in the kitchen drawer, trying to decide who to call. The only places that delivered this late were pizza joints, and I just wasn’t in the mood for pizza. Not again. I was about to give up and just dial the nearest pizza place when I came upon an advertisement I hadn’t seen before, or at least, I didn’t remember having seen before. It was just a square piece of glossy paper that looked as if it had been torn from a magazine or one of those inserts they put in the newspaper. Strangely, I didn’t remember having torn this out. But then again, I had been in a fog of constant studying for nearly two weeks, so perhaps I had saved this and had just forgotten about it.

The ad featured a cartoonish clown mascot holding balloons. Beside him was a comic-style speech bubble with the words “CARNIVAL BURGERS. Now open until 3:30 a.m.! We deliver!” Beneath the speech bubble was a telephone number. I had never heard of Carnival Burgers before. Was it a new place? I had reservations about ordering a burger by delivery, but I thought, “Why not?” I mean, how bad do you have to be to mess up a burger?

I dialed the number. It rang only once before a voice picked up on the other end. “Thank you for calling Carnival Burgers! Would you like to try our special house burger?” The voice sounded almost electronic, like it was pre-recorded.

“Uh, no thanks”, I said. “I’d like to place an order for delivery.”

“Excellent. I would be happy to take your order, Sir,” the electronic voice replied in a far too upbeat manner. “What would you like?”

“I’ll take a hamburger with cheese, pickles, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. A side of fries.”

“Would you like mustard, mayonnaise, or our special house sauce?”

“Uh…mustard, please.”

“Excellent! Your order will arrive shortly. Thank you for calling Carnival Burgers!” The line then disconnected. I figured the person on the other end must have accidentally hung up. I hadn’t given them my address or my payment information, and the voice hadn’t given me my total. I dialed the number again to complete the order.

This time it just kept ringing. I let it ring for what felt like a solid five minutes. When no one answered, I hung up and dialed again. The same thing happened. The phone just kept ringing. I thought maybe they were busy, which would have been odd being so late in the middle of the week, but maybe their burgers were just that good and maybe I had just gotten lucky getting through the first time…? Doubtful. I tried one more time. Finally, after about the third ring the line picked up. The same electronic voice spoke, but this time it sounded slower and deeper, like the recording had been slowed down, “Thank you for calling Carnival Burgers. Would you like to try our special house burger?”

“No thanks. I actually called a little while ago. I think the line was disconnected. I never gave you my address-”

“No worries, Jake” the slow, electronic voice replied, “Your order is on its way.” Click.

I never gave them my name. I was suddenly hit with a wave of confusion mixed with uneasiness. My logical brain began to weave a scenario in which they could know my name without me having given it to them. Maybe I had ordered from this place before and I just didn’t remember. Maybe they had some sort of number recognition software on their phone system so that repeat customers would be displayed on a database or a caller ID of some sort. Maybe that’s also why they didn’t ask for my address. Perhaps it was already on file from a previous order. Or maybe I did give them my name and I was just mistaken thinking I didn’t.

As much as I wanted that explanation to make sense, I knew I had never ordered from them before. I can be absent-minded at times and forgetful, but not that forgetful. I had never heard of the restaurant before.

But I did have that ad in my drawer…

I decided the most logical answer was the best one, and that I surely must have ordered from them before. Despite having talked myself into this conclusion, I still felt uneasy as I waited for the knock on my door. I couldn’t focus on my studying. I turned on the television to break the suddenly overwhelming silence of my apartment. I flipped through the channels. Being a broke college student, I couldn’t afford cable, so my late-night t.v. choices consisted of infomercials, religious programming, and talk show reruns. I settled on some trashy talk show where the host was telling people who was and who wasn’t the father, when the t.v. signal was cut in with static. A commercial popped on to the screen. It was snowy and the sound quality was poor. A clown, like the one in the print ad, danced in front of a small building with a sign on it reading “Carnival Burgers”. The same electronic, overly peppy voice spoke. “Come to Carnival Burgers where the fun never stops! Now offering delivery!” A phone number flashed on the bottom of the screen. The static dissipated and the screen returned to normal. I turned off the t.v.

Just as the t.v. clicked off, there was a knock on my door. I hesitantly approached. I peeked through the peephole to see a clown, balloons in one hand, and a paper bag with “Carnival Burgers” printed on it in the other. I gulped, took a deep breath, and opened the door.

The clown smiled and said, “That will be $8.66 please.” It was the same electronic voice from the phone.

I pulled a ten dollar bill out of my back pocket and handed it to him. “Keep the change,” I said, trying to mask my nervousness.

“Thank you! Enjoy your order and please call us again! Next time, try our special house burger!” The clown handed me the paper bag.

I took the bag and thanked him. He stood there an uncomfortably long time and there was an awkward period of silence as he just stared at me before I slowly closed the door. I thought that maybe I should have asked him how he knew my name and address, but I let it go. I waited a moment and then looked out the peephole. He was gone.

I had been so hungry earlier, but now I hardly wanted to eat. I opened the bag and found nothing unusual inside. It was just my order. Just a hamburger with cheese, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomato and mustard with a side of fries. It was warm and smelled good. I felt my uneasiness diminish and my hunger return. I ate the burger and fries and it was actually quite decent. It wasn’t the best burger I had ever had, but certainly not terrible. After eating, I studied a little while longer before crashing at about 2 a.m.

A few days later it was the weekend, and I was driving home to my parents’ house to spend the weekend with them. A couple of days of my mom’s home-cooked meals and my old, comfy bed was just the thing I needed before finals week. They lived in town, so it wasn’t a long drive and I liked to visit when I could. As I was driving, I came across some road construction. I followed the detour signs to an off road that I was unfamiliar with. I was aggravated, but as I said, it was a relatively short drive so a small detour wouldn’t make much of a difference. The detour guided me into an old residential neighborhood. There weren’t many businesses…just all houses…a small park…and then there it was…on the corner of an intersection. It was the building I had seen in the television ad. Carnival Burgers.

I pulled into the parking lot and stopped. It was certainly the same building, but unlike the one in the ad it was old and run down. The painted sign was faded and covered in dirt. Some of the windows had been broken out and replaced with boards. It looked as if it had been abandoned for years. I got out of my car and peered through one of the windows. Inside were booths and tables, blanketed with dust. There were cracks in the walls and cobwebs draping the small amount of furniture still left inside. In one corner was a plastic statue of a smiling clown holding a chalkboard menu with the now barely legible words, “Ask about the special house burger!”

I felt weak in the knees and a pain in my chest. This couldn’t be the same place. Once again my logical mind began to rationalize the situation. This was obviously just an old, abandoned location. The restaurant has moved and re-opened somewhere else. There was no “now located at____” sign, but that had to be it.

I got back in my car and continued to my parents’ house. Later that night at dinner, I asked my mother if she had ever heard of Carnival Burgers. My parents had lived their entire lives in the same town, so if anyone would know about it, they would. When I asked her she told me, “Oh yeah, the old burger joint. It was shut down a long time ago they said for ‘sanitation reasons’. It was actually a kind of big deal when we were kids. We all loved going there. Sure, it was kind of a McDonald’s knock off, but it was fun. They had this clown that would give out balloons. What was his name?”

My father cut in, “Jestereo, because of that weird voice of his. Some sort of electronic voice box. I thought it was creepy. “

“I thought he was funny. I was sad when they closed it down,” my mother said.

My father continued, “They said it was for uncleanliness but the rumors are that it shut down because of the disappearances.” He looked over his glasses and spoke in a melodramatic tone for effect.

“Oh, those were just stories the older kids told us to scare us.”

“What stories?” I asked.

My father replied, “They said a lot of people in the neighborhood started going missing, and the only thing the cops could find they had in common was that each one had ordered delivery from Carnival Burgers on the day they disappeared. Even weirder was they all had ordered the same thing- the ‘special house burger’.”

I decided not to tell my parents about my experience. I have never eaten fast food since.

Credit To – B.L.Hardgrove

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